Peanut Butter And the Gospel

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Peanut butter. Cheese. Bread. Tacos. Chocolate. Wine. What do these things have in common? They are delicious. I adore them. I’m cutting them out of my diet for a few weeks. Hello, 2018! I welcome you by being hungry and cranky. But, I deserve to be a hungry crank. After all, if you look at my eating habits over 2017 it was a bit shameful. There were those numerous boxes of candy hearts in February, chocolate eggs and peeps at Easter, more chocolate for Mother’s Day, the endless hot dogs and cherry pie in July, the Halloween candy that is still showing up in random corners of the house somehow, then we look up and here comes Thanksgiving and the six weeks of feasting that follow. That doesn’t even mention the weekend holidays in between, the birthday’s, anniversaries, special occasions or the flat-out-can't-blame-a-holiday-I'm-just-craving-it-all junk food and taco binging sprinkled throughout. Oh, and don't forget all the donuts! Wait...doughnuts? Either way...yum.

So here we all sit (like how I just switched the tone from personal to collective? Misery loves company!) at our computers or on our devices, gloomily doing our penance during the month of January, feeling a little more holy and a lot more hangry. 

Honestly though, I love January 1. There is something about the New Year that has always been exciting to me. It’s not so much about welcoming in the New Year at midnight (because in addition to eating, I also really like to sleep) it’s more about the new beginning of it all. 

There is a deeply spiritual aspect of the new year beginning that makes me feel so hopeful. A new start sounds like something my soul desperately needs. I really believe God, in his wisdom, knew that we needed rhythms and seasons of new beginnings and fresh starts. He knew we needed to have a do-over kind of feeling often... like - everyday. That is how I feel on January 1 every year. 

As we are all cleaning out our closets and refrigerators, rearranging furniture and finances, jogging and doing yoga, and all the other New Year-sy type things, let's remember that, while new behaviors feel nice, it is our hearts that need a new start the most. These new behaviors that we are trying to discipline ourselves into may fade by the end of the month…or the end of this sentence… because our problem is never really about our behavior.

It is always about our heart. 

Our problem is not when we eat too much, it is when food consumes our thoughts more than anything else. The problem is not when we drink too much, it is when we put our hope in alcohol and it’s effects. The problem is not when our spending is out of control, it is when we believe money will finally give us what we really want. Every addiction starts in the heart. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). We don’t just need new behaviors. We need a new heart. Without a new heart, we are the same old sinful person who is just temporarily motivated to behave better than usual for awhile. If we trust in improved behavior to change our lives for the better, we will find ourselves once again making plans to change the same old habits next January 1. 

We can’t behave. That’s why Jesus came and behaved in our place…because we can’t do it. I know such positive motivation…I warned you - I’m hangry.

So as we make our plans and implement changes to our lifestyle for this new year, let’s pause and consider where our hearts are. Are we wanting to make these changes because there is something fundamentally wrong and we are hoping that this new behavior will be the savior we need? If so, then we will be disappointed in the results. Even the most disciplined of us will fail to keep resolutions at some point this year. And even if we managed to keep our resolutions faithfully all year, without the transformation Jesus gives, we would find that we are still broken.

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What if instead of trusting in good behavior to save us, we saw our behaviors as a chance to be better stewards for the glory of the one who has already saved us. What if instead of exercising and eating healthier simply so we can look and feel better, we consistently took care of our bodies so that we could have the energy and strength to serve and worship God and help others? What if instead of restructuring our budgets so that we can gain wealth for our own comfort and desires, we managed our money better so that we could be more generous to those in need? What if we saw our lives not as something to be lived for our own pleasure, but rather a gift from God, a resource to be used for his purpose and glory? How would that change you this year? Would you live differently?

This is how the gospel changes us. When we realize we are living in light of Jesus’ redemptive work, we no longer strive to change our behaviors so that we can have a better life now. Rather, we change our behaviors because God has already gifted us with the best life that is free from the oppression of addictions and sin. We can freely choose to live this right-now-life he’s given us for his glory and purpose! Our behavior becomes worshipful instead of shameful.

My prayer for you and me today is that we will live from a place of grace and love, not from a place of shame and self-loathing. I pray that we will love Jesus more than we love our sins and addictions. I pray that we will be kind to ourselves in the midst of our failures so that we will know how to be kind to others when they fail. I pray that we will avoid the pride that comes from successful behavior done in our own strength, and give thanks to God that he did all the work that was necessary to save us. I pray that we will run this race faithfully, receive and give the gospel daily, and press in to the new life God has gifted us. 

I also pray that we never run out of peanut butter…

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8 (take time to read the whole chapter and be encouraged!)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.   1 Corinthians 10:31